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Full text of "Steve Oney The Lynching of Leo Frank, Esquire Magazine September 1985"

DOCUMENTARY 









by Steve Oney 






TheLynching „ 
of LeoFrank EJ 






Two years ago, and seventy years 
too late, a witness came forward 
to prove that Frank's only crime 
was being a stranger in the Old 

South 



Under the cover of the lengthening shad- 
ows of a sleepy August afternoon in 1915, 
five Model T's loaded with armed men 
quietly departed the northwest Atlanta 
suburb of Marietta. The men had told their 
wives they were going fishing. But this was 
no ordinary group of anglers. To avoid 
identification, several members of the par- 
ty — whose number included mechanics, 
telephone linemen, explosives experts, a 
doctor, a preacher, and a lawyer — wore 
leather goggles. To escape detection, the 
drivers took different back roads out of 
town. By the time light was gone from the 
summer sky, the men were alone in the 
Georgia countryside, barreling south 
through cotton fields toward MilJedgevilJe, 
175 miles away. 

In his quarters at the Georgia State Pris- 
on Farm just outside Milledgeville, Leo 
Max Frank lay in bed. A nervous, circum- 
spect Brooklyn Jew whose bulging eyes 
and wiry build lent him an unfortunate re- 
semblance to a praying mantis, Frank had 
been convicted in 1913 of killing Mary Pha- 
gan, a thirteen-year-old Marietta girl who 
worked for him at the National Pencil Com- 
pany in Atlanta. Frank had been condemned 



to die for the crime, and his conviction had 
been upheld by both the Georgia and the 
United States supreme courts. Neverthe- 
less, Georgia governor John Slaton be- 
lieved the evidence was inconclusive — on 
June 21, 1915, the eve of Frank's execution 
date, Slaton commuted the sentence to life 
imprisonment. That night an angry mob 
marched on the governor's mansion, burn- 
ing Slaton in effigy. "Our grand old Empire 
State HAS BEEN RAPED/" wrote Tom 
Watson, the legendary populist editor of 
The Jeffersonian. "Hereafter, let no man 
reproach the South with Lynch law: let him 
remember the provocation; and let him say 
whether Lynch law is not better than no law 
at all. " Four weeks after the commutation, 
one of Frank's fellow inmates attacked him 
in his sleep, slitting his throat with a butch- 
er knife. If another prisoner, a surgeon 
convicted of murder, hadn't stitched 
Frank's wound, he would have died. 

Still, as the early evening hours of Au- 
gust 16 wound down, Frank remained 
hopeful. The seven-and-a-half-inch gash 
around his neck had healed quickly, and 
he'd written a friend that his survival was a 
sign that the worst was over and vindica- 















Steve Oney was raised in Atlanta. His profile of Gregg AUman appeared in the November 1984 Esquire. 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



90 





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tion was near. In his battle for exoneration, 
Frank was counting heavily upon a cam- 
paign being waged in his behalf by north- 
ern Jewish leaders, among them Adolph 
Ochs, publisher of The New York Times. 
Frank also took faith from the support of 
his wife, Lucille, whose steady stream of 
letters always promised a happy ending. 

But Leo Frank's fate was not to be a 
pleasant one. By 11:00 the men who had 
left Marietta at dusk had completed their 
trip and reconnoitered with two advance 
scouts just outside the prison. The group's 
commander, the scion of a powerful Mar- 
ietta family, calmly issued orders, and with 
military precision the men began their 
work, cutting telephone lines, overpower- 
ing guards, handcuffing the warden, and 
finally moving directly to Frank's dormito- 
ry, where the prisoner was roused from his 
sleep and quickly hustled outside. 

Within minutes, the kidnappers roared 
off, vanishing onto unmapped highways. 
The raiders were not seen again until just 
before dawn, when two farmers walking 
through a field south of Marietta looked up 
and saw a series of cars — goggled drivers 
covered in red dust; Frank, his face unpro- 
tected, conspicuous in his nightclothes 
from where he sat between two captors in 
the back of one of the vehicles — racing 
against the coming of the day. The motor- 
cade's destination was the Marietta court- 
house square, but with the sun rapidly 
rising, the cars came to a halt in a grove 
near Frey's Gin, at the edge of town. Dur- 
ing the journey Frank had convinced sev- 
eral of his abductors that he was innocent, 
and thus a tense debate broke out. Follow- 
ing several sharp exchanges, the faction 
advocating mercy was overruled. 

"I think more of my wife and my mother 
than I do of my life, " Frank whispered as he 
was marched to a large oak tree, blind- 
folded, and ordered to stand on a table. 

"Mr. Frank," said the group's leader, 
"we are now going to do what the law said 
to do — hang you by the neck until you are 
dead. Do you want to make any statement 
before you die? " 

At first, Frank shook his head no, but he 
reconsidered and asked that his wedding 
ring be returned to his wife. 

A noose was then tied around Frank's 
neck, and the table was kicked out from 
under him. Its job finished, the lynch party 
hastily disbanded. 

As word spread that Leo Frank's body 
was twisting from a limb on the outskirts of 
Marietta, a crowd formed. They pecked at 
Frank's corpse, tearing away his nightshirt 
up to the elbows. Then someone cut the 
dead man down and began to grind a heel 
into his face. At the last instant, a judge 
who had arrived on the scene took control, 
rescuing the body from the mutilation that 
was sure to come. All the while, photog- 
raphers snapped pictures. 

These photographs were once com- 
monplace in the South. One of them, shot 



from behind a semicircle of gawkers, offers a 
sickening view of what hanging does to a 
man: Frank's head is snapped back at a 90- 
degree angle so that his eyes, beneath 
their blindfold, stare heavenward. His chin 
rests awkwardly on four neat coils of rope 
that knot off the noose. His neck is hidden by 
his collar, but the fabric can't disguise that his 
throat muscles have ripped and stretchedlike 



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Jim Conley denied murdering Mary Phagan. 



taffy. His hands are bound in front of him, and 
his manacled feet swing in the air about a yard 
above the ground. 

In the shots taken from another angle, the 
faces in the crowd come into focus. Some be- 
long to jowly townies. But most are those of 
sunken-cheeked, nine-fingered rustics in bib 
overalls held up by galluses. One — jug ears, 
thin lips, sallow complexion — bespeaks the 
ravages of moonshine. Another — lopsided 
jaw, crooked mouth, unfathomably stupid 
eyes — conjures up the eerie sound of a banjo 
string tuned to the breaking point, a note of 
backwoods madness. 

As time went by, the pictures — like the 
topic of Frank's lynching itself — became 
curiosities, usually found behind counters 
in country stores, way back behind dusty 
jars of pickled pigs' feet and discarded Slim 
Jim boxes. Yet in these obscure niches the 
photographs performed a function. They 
said that Leo Frank was lynched by 
crackers in one of those spontaneous 
strikes of vigilantism usually reserved for a 
drunken black who'd committed the capital 
offense of stealing a mule. 

But the men who murdered Leo Frank 
were not ignorant Snopeses caught up in a 
racist frenzy. They were Marietta's lead- 
ing citizens, and they acted premeditatedly 
and without passion. After the lynching 
one of the first things they did was preside 
over the perfunctory grand jury hearing 
that swiftly absolved the town's population 
of any guilt in Frank's death. The twenty- 
five men who participated in the incident 
swore one another to secrecy, and their 
names were never reported. In higher cir- 
cles around Marietta, though, their identi- 
ties were generally well known, for they 
had nothing to fear. They had been in- 
spired, it was believed, by a deep moral 
necessity. Just hours after the lynching an 
anonymous individual who was very likely 
one of Frank's killers told a reporter: "This 
modern exploit [was] done in the interest 
of justice. " This was the word they called it 
down through the years. 



On a misty winter afternoon three days 
before Christmas 1983, a frail, white-haired 
man wearing an old raincoat over his best 
brown Sunday suit walked slowly across the 
lawn of the Georgia capitol building in Atlan- 
ta. When he reached the statue of Tom 
Watson that stands at the western entrance 
to the seat of government, the man paused 
and contemplated the figure of the person 
who, more than any other, had created the 
atmosphere in which Leo Frank's lynching 
could be termed justice. Then Alonzo 
Mann, eighty-five, headed up the capitol 
steps on his own mission of justice. On a 
summer day seventy years earlier, Mann 
had failed to tell Leo Frank's trial jury what 
he believed to be the truth: Leo Frank was 
not guilty; someone else had murdered 
Mary Phagan. On Saturday, April 26, 1913, 
the day the girl was killed, Mann had barged 
into the National Pencil Company, where 
he was the office boy, and seen the real 
culprit toting Mary Phagan's body like a 
sack of potatoes. According to Mann, the 
Mariettans who lynched Leo Frank had not 
only committed the crime of murder, but 
they had hung an innocent man. 

For a lifetime, Alonzo Mann had carried 
his secret with him. At first, he says, he 
was too scared to repeat it. When he grew 
older, he claims that he did tell a few peo- 
ple, yet they ignored him. But finally he 
had found someone who would listen. One 
year before this gray holiday afternoon, 
Mann had sat down with attorney John J. 
Hooker, a debonair financier and unsuc- 
cessful Tennessee gubernatorial candi- 
date. Hooker had agreed to take Mann's 
deposition. After establishing the ground 
rules, he led his witness into the past, 
directing Mann to the scene that had 
haunted him for seventy years. 

"I opened the door to the National Pen- 
cil Company and walked in, " Mann said in a 
soft, sure voice. 

"What time was that? " Hooker asked. 

"I think it was a little after 12:00.... 
Then I looked up to the right, and there 
was Jim Conley with a girl in his arm and 
she was limp." 

"Who was Jim Conley? " 

"Jim Conley was a sweeper or the por- 
ter, you might want to call him." 

"Was he a white man or a black man? " 

"No, he was a — kind of mulatto. " 

"But he was a Negro? " 

"Yes. He looked around at me. He 
couldn't reach me. . . . He says, 'If you tell 
anything about this, I'll kill you. ' ... So I 
turned around and went out the door and 
went home." 

Hooker took a deep breath. Then he 
began to read from an affidavit Mann had 
given The Tennessean in Nashville. (Ten- 
nessean reporters Jerry Thompson and 
Robert Sherborne had published the first 
newspaper account of Mann's story on 
March 7, 1982.) 

'"He had the body of Mary Phagan in his 
arms,'" Hooker read. 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



92 



"Yes, he had the body of a young lady in 
his arms, " Mann answered. 

'"She appeared to be unconscious or 
perhaps dead.'" 

"That's right." 

"'I saw no blood.'" 

"That's correct. " 

Hooker paused. 
Then he asked, "Now, 
Mr. Mann, when you 
got home, what did you 
tell your mother? " 

"I told my mother 
what happened, and 
she says, 'Don't say 
anything about it, and 
we will wait and see 
how it comes out. ' So 
the next morning they 
find Mary Phagan and 
my mother says, 
'Don't say anything 
about it because we 
don't want to get in- 
volved in it.'" 

Mann told Hooker that he had obeyed 
his mother's request. He was that terrified 
Of Jim Conley, and his parents were that 
terrified of the hostility their son might 
attract if he came forth. Now, Mann con- 
fided, he was obsessed by another fear: he 
was afraid that he was going to carry the 
burden of not speaking out to the grave. 

This was the crux of Mann's statement, 
and it became the foundation for an applica- 
tion that Charles Wittenstein, southern 
counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, 
and Dale Schwartz, a partner in the Atlanta 
law firm of Troutman Sanders, would file 
with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Pa- 
roles. The two attorneys were going to 
reopen the pages of history by seeking a 
posthumous pardon for Leo Frank. 

Alonzo Mann, of course, was not the 
first person to raise questions about what 
had happened to Leo Frank. Over the 
years a number of historians and jour- 
nalists have attacked various aspects of 
Frank's trial and the lynching. But Mann's 
statement was the strongest evidence yet 
produced against the one figure in the case 
whose story has been disputed by almost 
everyone who believes in Frank's inno- 
cence: Jim Conley, the prosecution's star 
witness and the first black man ever whose 
testimony was accepted over a white 
man's in a capital case in the South. 

For a year the members of the Geor- 
gia Board of Pardons and Paroles had 
pondered the Frank pardon request. Fi- 
nally, on this December day in an age light- 
years removed from the morning of 
Frank's lynching (in 1915, the Lusitania 
was torpedoed, Rasputin held sway in the 
czar's court, and Ty Cobb hit a mere 
.369), they had reached a decision. This 
was why Alonzo Mann was at the Georgia 
capitol. 

On the Saturday in 1913 that Mary Phagan 



would die, Atlanta was already the center 
of the New South. The skyline contained a 
formidable collection of aspiring towers, 
and local banks were overflowing with 
Yankee capital, some of which had gone 
to start the National Pencil Company on 
Forsyth Street. It was here that twenty- 



Twelve angry men: the jury was well aware of the violence a verdict of not guilty could bring, 




nine-year-old Leo Frank arrived on the 
chilly morning of April 26 to go over his 
ledger books in his second-story office. 

Shuttered away with cheap cigars and 
neat columns of figures, Frank — who had 
been educated at the Pratt Institute of De- 
sign and Cornell University — was at one 
with the forces that had gained control of 
the city. But bright and ambitious though 
the pencil-factory superintendent was, he 
was also, in any final analysis, an alien — a 
northerner who would never comprehend 
the embittered past upon which the new 
prosperity was erected. 

April 26 was Confederate Memorial 
Day, and Peachtree Street, two blocks 
east of Frank's factory, was lined with 
thousands of native southerners come to 
praise the lost cause. There was a parade 
with scores of children in white caps and 
shirts followed by six thousand aging vet- 
erans who carried before them regimental 
banners and ragged Stars and Bars that 
had been torn by shrapnel at Gettysburg. 
Celebratory of the old order and commem- 
orative of those who died to save it, the 
ceremony could also well be seen as a 
protest against the confusing maelstrom of 
change transforming Dixie from an agrar- 
ian to an industrial society. 

Around 11:30 that morning, Mary Pha- 
gan caught a trolley into town. Pretty, 
plump, and precocious, she wore a past el 
violet dress and a hat adorned 
with fresh flowers. In her hands 
she carried a mesh purse and a 
parasol. Shortly before noon she 
stepped off the car and walked to 
the nearly deserted pencil facto- 
ry; after picking up her wages, 
she intended to go and watch the 
parade. 

At about 12:05 the young girl 
appeared in the doorway of 
Frank's office, and Frank handed 
her an envelope that contained 




Frank's wife, Lucille 



two silver half-dollars and two dimes- — ten 
hours' earnings. Mary Phagan had not 
worked much during the previous week. 
Her job, putting eraser caps on pencils, 
had temporarily been canceled because of 
a delayed metal shipment. 
"Has the brass come in yet?" she asked 
Frank in parting. 

It was now nearly 
12:10, and what hap- 
pened in the factory 
during the next few 
hours would forever 
be disputed. The few 
inarguable facts are 
these: 

After eating lunch 
at home around 1:00, 
Frank returned to 
work and finished 
several complicated 
pieces of accounting. 
He also wrote his un- 
cle a letter that in- 
cluded the line: "It's been too short a time 
since you left for anything startling to have 
developed down here. " 

At 4: 00 p. m. , when the night watchman, 
a black man named Newt Lee, arrived early 
for work, Frank told him to leave and come 
back later. Lee said he'd rather go to sleep 
in the basement until punch-in time, but 
Frank insisted, encouraging Lee to "go out 
and have a good time. " 

At 6:00 p.m. Lee returned. Presently, 
Frank locked up and headed home to the 
southeast Atlanta residence of his wife's 
parents, with whom the Franks lived. 

At 7:00 p.m. Frank did something he'd 
never done before — he telephoned Newt 
Lee to ask if things were all right. The 
guard said they were. Frank retired to the 
parlor, and guests soon arrived to play 
bridge. As the cards were dealt, conversa- 
tion focused on the opera, which Frank's 
mother-in-law and Lucille had attended 
that afternoon. When Frank chose to, he 
could be engaging, but tonight he was 
withdrawn and went to bed early. 

Around 3:00 a.m. Newt Lee — who 
had spent the night making rounds of the 
upper stories of the factory — stepped 
down a ladder into the basement, a dark 
chamber that smelled of wood shavings 
and lead. Holding a lantern before him, the 
watchman soon spotted what looked like a 
body spr awled on the floor near the fur- 
nace. He climbed back up the 
ladder and phoned Frank's 
house. No one answered. Then 
he called the police. Within min- 
utes, three officers arrived, de- 
scended the ladder, and found 
Mary Phagan. She had been 
strangled to death with a piece of 
twine. She had also been cut on 
the back of the head, her face 
was bruised, and her fingernails 
and mouth were gritty with coal 
dust and pencil parings. There 



93 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 




was blood on her underwear, but an autop- 
sy would determine that she apparently 
had not been raped. 

Later in the morning the police dis- 
covered two notes that had been clumsily 
scrawled on out-of-date pencil-company 
order forms and placed beside the body. 
They read: 

"he said he wood HughDorsey 
love me and land 
down play like night 
witch did it but that 
long tall black negro 
did boy his slef. " 

"Mam that negro 
hire down here did 
this i went to make 
water and he push 
me down that hole a 
long tall negro black 
that hoo it wase long sleam tall negro i 
wright while play with me" 

Nowhere to be found were the mesh 
purse or the $1.20 in wages, but at the 
bottom of the factory elevator shaft were a 
girl's hat, a ball of twine, a parasol, and a 
mound of human excrement. Later that 
day when the police took the elevator car 
down to the basement, all of these items 
were crushed, releasing a nasty stench. 

Newt Lee — a "long tall black negro" — 
was the first suspect arrested in the case, 
but Leo Frank aroused the police depart- 
ment's suspicions from the outset. When 
detectives appeared at his door on Sunday 
morning, Frank was standoffish, arguing 
that he wanted a cup of coffee before he 
would accompany the lawmen. When the 
urgency of the matter was impressed upon 
the factory superintendent, he reluctantly 
agreed to venture out. The first stop was 
the morgue, where Frank recoiled from 
the sight of Mary Phagan's corpse and said 
he couldn't identify her. With nearly one 
hundred young women laboring for him, 
how could he be expected to remember 
them all? Then Frank was driven to the 
pencil company, where a search of his rec- 
ords revealed that Mary Phagan had in- 
deed been the worker he'd paid on 
Saturday. Frank was the last person to 
admit seeing the girl alive. 

On Monday Frank was questioned in the 
office of Chief of Detectives Newport Lan- 
ford. When he realized that he might be a 
suspect, Frank stripped off his shirt in the 
hope that his unscratched torso would con- 
vince the detective that he couldn't have 
committed such a brutal murder. Then he 
invited officers to examine his laundry at 
home for bloodstained garments. The 
search was conducted, and it revealed 
nothing. But the police were still curious. 
Before the day was over, Frank had re- 
tained a lawyer and hired Pinkerton's de- 
tective agency to find the killer. 

Over the next few days Atlanta's three 
newspapers — The Atlanta Constitution, 
The Atlanta Journal, and the Hearst- 



owned Atlanta Georgian — urged the po- 
lice department to act quickly on "the case 
of Little Mary Phagan. " The Constitution 
editorialized: "The detective force and the 
entire [sic] police authorities are on proba- 
tion until the detection and arrest of this 
criminal with proof. " 

Protesting that he was innocent, Frank 
was arrested on April 29 after the discov- 
ery of some hair and blood drops on the 
floor of the pencil factory's second-story 
metal shop — the site where the prosecu- 
tion would allege Frank strangled Mary 
Phagan after luring her there on the pre- 
text of ascertaining whether an order of 
brass had arrived. Frank was imprisoned 
in the Fulton County Jail, an old brick lock- 
up known locally as the Tower. For the 
first few days of his incarceration Frank re- 
fused to see his wife, saying that he 
couldn't stand for her to visit him behind 
bars. This self-imposed isolation was gen- 
erally regarded by Atlantans as evidence of 
Lucille's awareness of her husband's cul- 
pability. Later, even though Lucille began 
making daily pilgrimages to the Tower, 
Frank was unable to dispel this perception. 
In fact, he never really tried. He refused to 
grant interviews to reporters and spent 
most of his time going over his company's 
books. In Atlanta's newspapers he was 
given a forbidding sobriquet: the Silent 
Man in the Tower. 

While Frank awaited trial — too stunned, 
too arrogant, or too cautious to speak out 
on his own behalf — another man confined 
to a different Atlanta jail was talking freely. 

Two days after Frank's apprehension, 
Jim Conley was detained when he was seen 
in the pencil-factory basement washing out 
a shirt soaked with what appeared to be 
blood. At first, neither the police nor Solic- 
itor General Hugh Dorsey paid much at- 
tention to the new prisoner. But when 
investigators were tipped that Conley 
could write, he became a prime suspect in 
the penning of the two curious notes found 
by Mary Phagan's body. 

Over a two-week period in May, Atlanta 
police officers interrogated Conley. The 
"sweating" began on a Sunday afternoon 
when Conley was locked in a six-by-eight- 
foot room by Detective John Black and De- 
tective Harry Scott, the Pinkerton agent 
Frank had hired (Scott, who played both 
sides of the fence, ended up becoming 
Frank's Judas). 

"Well, Jim," The Constitution reported 
Black saying, "we've got the deadwood on 
you. " 

"Honest, white folks, I swear 'fore God 
and high heaven I don't know a thing," 
Conley replied. 

"Listen, " asked Scott, "can you write?" 

"No," Conley said, "and I never could." 

Scott then shoved a jewelry bill that bore 
Conley's signature in its author's face. 
Conley was wordless. Finally he said, 
"White folks, I'm a liar." 

Conley proceeded to write out the 




ABC's, after which the detectives asked 
him to copy something down for them. 

"That long tall black Negro did this by 
himself, " Black dictated. 

"That long tall black negro did this boy 
his slef, " Conley laboriously wrote, making 
the same misspellings prominent in one of 
the murder notes. 
LutherRosser The detectives 

stared at the pris- 
oner, then walked 
out of the room. 

Conley — a short, 
stocky, ginger-col- 
ored Negro — was 
surely experienced 
in such cat-and- 
mouse games. At 
twenty-seven, he 
had been convicted 
of several minor offenses and served a cou- 
ple of sentences on the chain gang. But 
canny though he may have been, Conley 
was very probably also scared. Deep in his 
cell, he must have felt the oppressive 
weight of the white South falling upon him, 
grinding him down until he was nothing but 
a lump of coal. And the pressure didn't 
stop there. It kept mounting, pushing him 
into a corner with a crushing force until he 
formed the diamond of deceit that would 
glitter at the center of the prosecution's 
case against Frank. 

Several days after the initial grilling, Con- 
ley summoned Detective Black. "I've got 
something to tell you, boss," he said. "I 
wrote those notes. Mr. Frank had me write 
'em. I didn't know what he wanted with 
them, and he gave me some money to do it. " 
Conley also told Black that Frank had 
planned the murder in advance, dictating 
the notes on the Friday before the killing 
after muttering, "Why should I hang? I 
have wealthy people in Brooklyn. " 

This was only the beginning. The admis- 
sion of authorship in hand, the inves- 
tigators pushed their advantage. Under 
careful coaching, Conley would produce 
three affidavits that, while contradictory in 
parts, agreed on the main point: Frank 
killed Mary Phagan and then conspired 
with Conley to dispose of the body and 
write the notes in the hope that they could 
pin the crime on Newt Lee. Conley would 
contend that on the day of Mary Phagan's 
death he had been "watching out" for 
Frank, something he often did while his 
boss "chatted up" little girls. He would say 
that Frank asked him to load Mary Pha- 
gan's body into the elevator and transport _ 
it to the basement. Finally (after being in- 
formed that it was unlikely that Frank com- 
posed the murder notes on Friday, as the 
crime bore no signs of forethought), he 
would improve upon his initial story, saying 
that it wasn't until after he had dumped the 
body and returned to Frank's office that he 
actually took down the notes. 

As Frank's trial date drew near, both the 
prosecuting attorneys and the defense 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



94 



lawyers marveled at Conley's story, and, 
for different but equally racist reasons, 
each side decreed, it good. In prosecutor 
Dorsey's mind, the feet that Conley had 
produced several variations of his tale was 
confirmation of the narrative's veracity: 
Conley was a lying nigger and lying niggers 
couldn't get a story straight the first time 
or the second, but give them one more 
shot and they'd sure see the light. Mean- 
while, Frank's defense counsel salivated at 
the prospect of cross-examining Conley, 
believing 'chat no nigger could retell such 
a convoluted chronicle in the right order. 

Leo Frank's trial began on July 28, 1913, in 
a makeshift courtroom on the first floor of 
Atlanta's City Hall in the midst of one of the 
worst heat waves in Georgia history. The 
temporary chamber, while set up with the 
traditional bench and railings and outfitted 
with several cumbersome ozonators (prim- 
itive precursors of the air conditioner), 
was crowded and oppressive. The judge, 
jury, legal teams, and spectators sat prac- 
tically on top of one another, and after the 
first day the windows were thrown open in 
the futile hope mat fresh air would circulate 
through the room. Instead, the proceed- 
ings were simply more accessible to the 
hundreds of n.bberneckers who either 
stood in the streets or squatted like crows 
on the hot tar-paper roofs of several ware- 
houses directly behind the judge. 

When Leo Frank and his family ap- 
peared in court on the first moming.of the 
trial, they made no attempt to disguise 
their expensive taste in clothing. The ac- 
cused wore a g::ay mohair suit with a sharp 
silk tie. Lucille wore black silk and lace, 
and Frank's mother, Rhea, who had jour- 
neyed south from Brooklyn to protect her 
son, wore a stylish long white dress 
clasped at the neck by a cameo. Frank's 
attorneys — Luther Rosser and Reuben 
Arnold, Atlanta's two premier trial law- 
yers — were both southern gentiles, but 
they, too, evoked the posh, brocaded 
world of the big city. 

On the other side of the aisle, Mary 
Phagan's mother, dressed in the simple 
garments of a poor country woman, sat 
behind the prosecution table, which was 
staffed by the state's attorneys. Hugh Dor- 
sey was a passionate Huck Finn whose 
dark hair fell into a cowlick on his forehead. 
He was assisted by Frank Hooper, a south- 
west Georgian with a parched complexion 
and sandy bangs. Also sitting with the so- 
licitor was a young lawyer named William 
Smith, who had been preparing his client, 
Jim Conley, for the witness stand. 

Throughout the early days of the trial, 
both sides scored points. Hugh Dorsey 
introduced testimony from a young female 
factory worker who said she'd arrived at 
Frank's office a little after noon on April 26 
and found it empty — suggesting that 
Frank could well have been off with Mary 
Phagan. Meanwhile, the defense deci- 



mated the allegations of a boy who con- 
tended that Mary Phagan had confided her 
fears of Frank to him. But in spite of 
Rosser and Arnold's best efforts, the pros- 
ecution inexorably began to build its case. 

The stage was being set for Conley. 
When the sweeper took his place in the 
witness box, he was clean-shaven and im- 
pressive in a new suit. In what would be a 
fourth version of his story — one fortified 
by facts he'd failed to include in any of his 
affidavits — he smoothly delivered his tale: 

"Mr. Frank was standing up at the top 
of the steps and shivering and trembling 

and rubbing his hands He had a little 

piece of rope in his hands — a long, wide 
piece of cord. His eyes were large and 
they looked right funny. ... His face was 

red He asked me: 'Did you see that 

little girl who passed here just a while ago?' 



m 

W l i ill 
1 1 If 

- t 


11 '^ 

fll? ^ 
If * 

- • •] ■ 



Tom Watson clamored for Frank's lynching. 



"I told him I saw one come along there 
and she come back again, and then I saw 
another one come along there and she 

hasn't come back down He says: 'Well, 

that one you say didn't come back down, she 
came into my office . . . and I went back there 
to see if the little girl's work had come, and I 
wanted to be with the little girl, and she 
refused me, and I struck her, and I guess I 
struck her too hard, and she fell and hit her 
head against something, and I don't know 
how bad she got hurt. Of course you know I 
ain't built like other men. ' 

"The reason he said that was, I had seen 
him in a position I haven't seen any other 
man that has got children. I have seen him 
in the office two or three times before 
Thanksgiving and a lady was in his office, 
and she was sitting down in a chair and she 
had her clothes up to here, and he was 
down on his knees " 

In the Victorian moral climate of At- 
lanta — where the sanctity of southern 
womanhood was as revered as Jesus 
Christ — Conley's assertion was stagger- 
ing. The courtroom was deadly quiet as 
the witness finished his account with a 
flourish, describing how he had taken 
Mary Phagan's body to the basement in 
the elevator and then returned to Frank's 
office to write the murder notes. 

It took Conley just four hours to tell his 
story; Luther Rosser, generally regarded 
as the best cross-examiner in the South, 
would spend sixteen trying to break it. 

Rosser started Conley out with a few 



friendly inquiries. Then he directed him to 
the topic of Frank's alleged affairs. 

"When was the first time you watched 
for Mr. Frank? Who was with him?" 

"That lady that was with Mr. Frank the 
[first] time I watched for him sometime 
last July was Miss Daisy Hopkins [an At- 
lanta prostitute]." 

Rosser encouraged Conley to continue, 
and the witness produced an impressive list 
of Frank's seductions leading up to Mary 
Phagan. Often, Conley claimed faulty mem- 
ory and refused to answer a question, but 
he did so in such an offhand way as to seem 
ingenuous rather than duplicitous. For 
nearly three days, Rosser grilled his wit- 
ness, and by the end of it he'd not only failed 
to discredit Conley but he'd allowed him to 
introduce a mass of evidence incriminating 
Frank in numerous liaisons. 

Realizing their mistake, Rosser and Ar- 
nold attempted to have the new evidence 
concerning Frank's sexual habits struck 
from the record. They were overruled, and 
the courtroom burst into applause. 

Impressive as Conley had been, he did 
let slip one very peculiar item. Almost as 
an afterthought, he admitted that on the 
morning of Mary Phagan's death he'd defe- 
cated in the factory elevator shaft. The 
defense must have failed to see what this 
admission suggested. It would be much 
later before Frank's advocates understood 
the significance of what would come to be 
known as "the shit in the shaft." 

Had not Conley been such a crippling 
witness, it's doubtful that Rosser and Ar- 
nold would have elected to follow the risky 
tactic of introducing Leo Frank's character 
as the foundation of its case — a move that 
would later allow the prosecution to pro- 
duce witnesses to discredit the factory su- 
perintendent's good name. 

In all, the defense called more than two 
hundred character witnesses, many of 
whom were young girls who worked in the 
factory. Lost in the ceaseless shuffle of 
faces and voices was a shy teenage boy 
who spoke so softly that the court reporter 
could barely comprehend his testimony. 
This was Alonzo Mann. After managing to 
get out that he'd never seen Frank bring 
women into the office for immoral pur- 
poses, Mann was excused from the stand. 

The last and most dramatic piece in the 
defense's argument was Leo Frank's own 
statement. At 2:00 p.m. on the first day of 
the fourth week of the trial, Frank started 
reading from a lengthy manuscript: 

"In the year 1884, on the 17th day of 
April, I was born in Paris, Texas. At the 
age of three months, my parents took me 
to Brooklyn, New York, and I remained in 
my home until I came South, to Atlanta, to 
make my home here. " 

Frank was delivering his autobiography, 
a document that, like the man who wrote 
it, was meticulous, rational, pinched. It led 
him from his marriage day to the morning 
of Mary Phagan's death, and then, in 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



96 



painstaking detail, through the trials and 
infamies he'd endured since his arrest. Fi- 
nally, when Frank addressed Jim Conley's 
testimony, he grew impassioned. First, he 
said that it was he who had informed the 
police that Conley could write — not the act 
of a guilty man. Then he added: 

"Gentlemen, 1 know nothing whatever 
of the death of little Mary Phagan. I had no 
part in causing her death nor do I know 
how she came to her death after she took 
her money and left my office 

"The statement of Conley is a tissue of 
lies from first to last. . . . The story as to 
women coming into the factory with me for 
immoral purposes is a base lie, and the few 
occasions that he claims to have seen me in 
indecent positions with women is a lie so 
vile that I have no language with which to 
fitly denounce it 

"Gentlemen, some newspaper men 
have called me the Silent Man in the Tow- 
er, and I have kept my silence advisedly, 
until the proper tune and place. The time is 
now. The place is here. And I have told you 
the truth— the whole truth." 

It was prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, 
though, who would have the last word. 
Dorsey began by introducing a string of 
witnesses to rebut those who had attested 
to Frank's good character. Then he 
started his summation. The attorney wove 
a hypnotic plea for Frank's conviction. He 
contended that the murder notes had 
definitely originated in the mind of a white 
man because everyone knew that blacks 
didn't use the words "did" and "Negro" — 
they used "done" and "nigger. " He pointed 
out numerous holes in Frank's state- 
ment — chiefly the accused's inability to 
ever really produce a satisfactory expla- 
nation for his twitchy behavior on the day 
of the murder and the morning after. Near 
the end of his argument, Dorsey lingered 
on the diction of the letter Frank had writ- 
ten his uncle that fateful Saturday: '"It is 
too short a time since you left for anything 
startling to have developed down here,'" 
Dorsey read. "A sentence pregnant with 
significance, which [bore] the earmarks of 

the guilty conscience 'Too short a 

time'. . . that itself shows that the dastardly 
deed was done in an incredibly short time . " 

On Saturday, August 23 — nearly a 
month after the trial had begun — Dorsey 
was ready to stop. But judge Leonard 
Roan was fearful that if the jury returned a 
verdict on the weekend — when the city 
was crowded with country people — a riot 
might commence. Roan called both sets of 
attorneys to the bench and, in a discussion 
audible to the jury, decided to postpone 
the end of the trial until Monday. To the 
jurors, this conversation must have sug- 
gested that if Frank were acquitted they 
could be the objects of violence. 

On Monday morning, August 25, the 
trial was concluded. The jury retired, and 
Frank was taken to the Tower, where 
Judge Roan had decided for safety reasons 



I that Frank should remain during the ver- 
I diet — a clear denial of a defendant's consti- 
tutional right to be present in the 
courtroom to hear the findings of the 
court. 

After only four hours of deliberation, the 
jury returned with its verdict: "Guilty. " 

Immediately, such a din broke forth in 
the courtroom that Judge Roan was bare- 
ly able to poll the jurors. A friend rushed 
to Frank's cell with the bad news. 
Frank again declared his innocence. Lucille 
started sobbing. Then she fainted. 

Outside in the streets there was bed- 
lam. Thousands of jubilant Georgians 
jostled to get near city hall Hugh Dor- 
sey was hoisted on the crowd's shoulders 
and cheered. Soon there appeared on the 
city hall steps an Appalachian musician 
named Fiddlin' John Carson. After rais- 
ing his Stradivarius to his shoulder, Car- 
son started singing: 

Little Mary Phagan 

She went to town one day; 

She went to the pencil factory 

To get her weekly pay. 

She left her home at eleven, 

She kissed her mother goodbye; 

Not one time did that poor girl think 

She was going off to die. 

Leo Frank he met her 

With a brutish heart and grin; 

He says to little Mary, 

You'll never see home again. . . 

Judge Roan passed the sentence, 

He passed it very well; 

The Christian doers of heaven 

Sent Leo Frank to hell. 

The next day, in a secret meeting at- 
tended by Frank, his attorneys, and the 
prosecutors, Judge Roan condemned 
Frank to hang by his neck until he was 
dead. 

It took Leo Frank nearly two years to ex- 
haust the appellate procedures available to 
him. The first hurdle was a request for a 
new trial, which Judge Roan denied. After- 
ward the judge made a curious statement: 
"With all the thought 
Judge Leonard Roan I have put on this 
case, I am not thor- 
oughly convinced 
that Frank is guilty or 
innocent. The jury 

was convinced I 

feel it is my duty that 
the motion for a new 
trial be overruled." 
Roan would not be 
the only judge to ex- 
press uncertain- 
ties. In his minority opinion on the Frank 
case, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wen- 
dell Holmes expressed his belief that 
the atmosphere outside the city hall's 
courtroom led to Frank's conviction. "We 
think the presumption overwhelming 
that the jury responded to the passions 



of the mob, " Holmes declared. 

During the long months of legal maneu- 
vering, a number of the prosecution's 
principal participants began coming for- 
ward with doubts of their own. The most 
startling of these changelings was William 
Smith, Jim Conley's attorney. Smith had 
performed a brilliant job of protecting Con- 
ley's rights. He had not only warded off a 
grand jury attempt to indict Conley along 
with Frank, but he had arranged for Conley 
to be charged with a misdemeanor offense, 
which carried only a one-year sentence. 
Yet certain aspects of Conley's story began 
to gnaw at Smith. He carefully examined the 
trial transcript, focusing on Conley's testi- 
mony about the notes. Eventually, Smith 
arrived at several disturbing insights. First, 
he concluded that the author of the murder 
notes was someone fond of placing three 
adjectives — "long, tall, black" — in front of 
his nouns. In his testimony, Conley had 
often used such a construction. Second, 
and quite contrary to Hugh Dorsey's clos- 
ing argument, he discovered that Conley 
frequently used the words "did" and 
"Negro" while on the stand. Finally, Smith 
attacked the murder-note phrase "play like 
the night witch did it. " Among the voodoo 
folk faiths believed in by many southern 
blacks was one concerning a spirit called 
"the night witch," who was thought to 
strangle children in the dead of night. As far 
as Smith could determine, Frank — a smug 
New Yorker relatively new to the South — 
could not possibly have heard of the night 
witch. Conley, however, would have known 
all about her. 

In October 1914 Smith went to the Atlan- 
ta newspapers with his story: Conley had 
composed the murder notes; Conley had 
murdered Mary Phagan. Shortly there- 
after, Smith conveyed his newfound belief in 
his client's guilt to the governor. 

John Slaton, however, was more inter- 
ested in several other aspects of Conley's 
testimony. The governor had come into 
possession of a number of love letters Con- 
ley had written to his girlfriend, Annie 
Maude Carter. The letters were rife with 
Conley's sexual fantasies, which were very 
much like the obsessions he attributed to 
Frank. It occurred to Slaton that by an act of 
transference, Conley had actually ascribed 
his own lusts to Frank. 

But of even greater concern to the gover- 
nor was the "shit in the shaft. " Slaton con- 
cluded that the dung that had been crushed 
in the elevator shaft on the Sunday following 
the murder was a crucial piece of evidence. 
If, as he testified, Conley had transported 
Mary Phagan's body to the basement in the 
elevator, the excrement would have been 
mashed on Saturday. Why was it still fresh 
on Sunday morning? To Slaton, the answer 
was obvious: Conley never set foot in the 
elevator with Mary Phagan's body. His 
mendacity on this one point suggested to 
Slaton that Conley's entire testimony was a 
lie, and though the governor was acutely 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



100 



aware of the public sentiment against 
Frank, he decided to commute the con- 
demned man's sentence. 

By the summer of 1915, however, Leo 
Frank was beyond the help of a mere gover- 
nor. He was living in limbo on the prison 
farm in Milledgeville, where he'd been 
transferred from the Tower in the dead of 
a June night. In the gnatty .torpor of the 
long Georgia afternoons, as sweat beaded 
on his brow and his throat wound oozed, 
Frank dispatched scores of cool, almost 
triumphant-sounding letters to corre- 
spondents all over the country. He was 
convinced he would one day be cleared. 
But in the desperately cheerful notes Frank 
received from the two people closest to 
him — his wife and his mother — there was a 



nings Bryan on the Populist party ticket in 
1896. But after Bryan's defeat, Watson 
grew bitter and began railing against greedy 
Catholics and Jews as well as the blacks he'd 
once championed. The vehicles for his di- 
atribes were The Jeff ersonian and Watson's 
Magazine. 

Hardly a week went by during the latter 
part of 1914 and the early months of 1915 in 
which Watson didn't attack "the Jew. " Early 
on, he was content to write, "Frank be- 
longed to the Jewish aristocracy and it was 
determined by the rich Jews that no aristo- 
crat of their race should die for the death of a 
working class Gentile. " Later he grew 
bolder, analyzing Frank's facial structure 
and seeing in it the markings of a child- 
killer. Finally, in early August 1915, the 



League was organized in New York City. 

The Frank story's most profound ram- 
ifications, however, were visited direct- 
ly upon those most intimately involved. 

To the victors went the spoils: 

Hugh Dorsey was elected governor of 
Georgia; he eventually took a superior 
court judgeship in Atlanta. 

Tom Watson was elected to the United 
States Senate in 1920. Two years later he 
died in office. At his funeral the most osten- 
tatious floral arrangement was a cross of 
roses eight feet high sent by the Klan. 

The members of the lynch party lived out 
their lives in relative comfort. "Yes, Frank 
was lynched by this town's best people, " 
said a man who shall here be known as Willis 
Blackburn. It was a fall day nearly seventy 



Atlantans lined up to get into the makeshift courtroom while hundreds of rubberneckers squatted on tar-paper roofs directly behind the judge. 




mounting apprehension. "It has poured all 
day, and I hope that the same weather pre- 
vailed in Atlanta. I had a kind o' idea that the 
ruff nex might erupt tonight when they 
should be filled with booze and the spirit of 
independence, " Lucille wrote in a July note 
mailed from a relative's home in the college 
town of Athens. And on August 14 — in a 
letter primarily given over to family news — 
Leo Frank's mother expressed her horror 
at the virulent writings of Tom Watson. 
Surely, she prayed, the man wasn't as dan- 
gerous as he seemed. Watson, however, 
was a greater threat to Rhea Frank's son 
than she could ever have known. It was 
because of Watson that Frank would be 
dead in three days. 

One of the most charismatic figures in 
southern history, Tom Watson had ap- 
pointed himself to act out the hatreds and 
confusions of Georgians in the post-Recon- 
struction era. Early in his career he was an 
eloquent spokesman for disenfranchised 
white and black southerners alike. He was 
elected to Congress as a Democrat from 
Georgia's Tenth District, and then he ran 
for the vice-presidency with William Jen- 



editor declared: "THE NEXT JEW WHO 

DOES WHAT FRANK DID IS GOING TO 

GET EXACTLY THE SAME THING WE 

, GIVE NEGRO RAPISTS." 

I On August 17, Leo Frank became the 

J first Jew to get what southern firebrands 

gave Negro rapists. 

Articles about the lynching of Leo Frank 
dominated the Atlanta newspapers for 
three or four days following the event, but 
then all interest in the story seemed to 
cease. There were no serious investiga- 
tions into the composition of the lynch 
party. There were no meaningful postmor- 
tems on the saga. The process of repres- 
sion had begun. 

The legacies left by the Frank case, 
though, made themselves apparent almost 
immediately. During the hysteria sur- 
rounding the lynching, the Ku Klux Klan — 
an organization whose original fraternal 
incarnation had all but petered out by 
1915 — held its first cross burning atop 
Atlanta's Stone Mountain, thus reinvig- 
orating itself for a new life. Almost 
simultaneously, the Anti-Defamation 



years after Frank's death, and Blackburn — 
a well-educated Marietta native — sat in an 
office in the heart of town. "The children of 
some of these people work right here in the 
building, " he said. Then, in a barely audible 
tone, he uttered the name Herbert Clay. 
Clay, long dead, was solicitor general of the 
Blue Ridge Circuit (which included Mariet- 
ta) and the son of Alexander Stephens Clay, 
one of Georgia's Reconstruction-period 
U.S. senators. According to Blackburn and 
long-standing speculation, Clay conceived, 
planned, and led the lynch party. Blackburn 
said Clay and his comrades were un- 
blemished by the lynching. Yet he refused 
to elaborate. "I have spoken too much, " he 
said through tight lips. 

To the defeated went troubles and 
obscurity: 

William Smith, the attorney who changed 
his mind about Conley, moved to Charles- 
ton, South Carolina, where he worked as a 
longshoreman. After nearly a decade on the 
docks, he resurfaced in New York City and 
organized a maritime law practice. 

Governor John Slaton traveled the world 
for five years, fearful of returning to 



101 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 






Georgia. At the conclusion of World War I, 
he finally came home to Atlanta to practice 
law. He died in 1955. 

Luther Rosser and Reuben Arnold con- 
tinued successful law practices in Atlanta, 
but their reputations were badly damaged. 
The lawyers had based their case on the 
calculation that no southern jury would 
convict a white man on the testimony of a 
black (Rosser's courtroom statements 
about Conley were the most bigoted utter- 
ances made during the case). They failed 
to comprehend why a northern Jew would 
excite the animosity of poor gentile Geor- 
gians. In A Little Girl Is Dead, the most 
widely available book on the Frank case, 
Harry Golden cites an essay written on 
Frank by the pastor of Mary Phagan's 
church: "When the police arrested a Jew, 
and a Yankee Jew at that, all of the inborn 
prejudice against the Jews rose up in a 
feeling of satisfaction, that here would be a 
victim worthy to pay for the crime. " 

After burying her husband in Brooklyn, 
Lucille Frank returned to Atlanta, where 
she took a job at one of the city's best fash- 
ion salons. She lived out her widow- 
hood in the Howell House apartments on 
Peachtree Street until her death in 1957. 

In the aftermath of Frank's lynching — as 
during the trial — the most mysterious 
character remained Jim Conley. After 
serving his year in prison, Conley returned 
to Atlanta, where he is said to have been 
killed in a knife fight in 1962. Harry Golden 
wrote that Conley confessed to Mary Pha- 
gan's murder on his deathbed, but this 
appears to be wishful thinking. Over the 
last few years legal aides have rifled 
through microfilm files in libraries across 
the South searching for news of Conley's 
confession. They have found nothing. 

These were the ghosts who accompanied 
Alonzo Mann into the Georgia capitol 
press room on December 22, 1983. But 
the Board of Pardons and Paroles was im- 
pervious to the importuning of the dead. 
Its spokesman stood before a microphone 
and announced: 

"Assuming the statements made by Mr. 
Mann as to what he saw that day are true, 
they only prove conclusively that the ele- 
vator was not used to transport the body of 
Mary Phagan to the basement. 

"For the board to grant such a pardon [a 
full exoneration], the innocence of the sub- 
ject must be shown conclusively. This has 
not been shown. Therefore, the board 
hereby denies the application for a 
posthumous pardon for Leo M. Frank. " 

When the board's representative sat 
down, reporters surrounded Alonzo Mann. 
After stifling a sob, Mann offered his only 
reaction: "It just isn't Christian." 

Why did the board — a body composed of 
one black and four white southerners — 
reject the pardon application? One after- 
noon several months following the decision, 
Michael Wing, the board's chairman, 



sat at his desk in a building across from the 
capitol. "The testimony of Mann sounded 
good, " he said. "It matched up with the shit 
in the shaft to suggest that Conley was the 
killer. But does his testimony alone provide 
sufficient reason to overturn the findings of 
the court? I wouldn't convict someone sev- 
enty years after the fact solely on the testi- 
mony of an eighty-year-old man, so how can 
I pardon someone on that testimony? To 
get that pardon, they needed to prove that 
Frank was innocent beyond a shadow of a 
doubt, and Mann's testi- 
mony just didn't do that." 

The demanding criteria 
the board set was really the 
least of the problems facing 
the attorneys who filed the 
pardon request. From the 
outset, the board had de- 
cided that it would not be in- 
fluenced by a number of key 
factors in the Frank case. Frank's lynching 
was regarded as immaterial, for it had no 
bearing on his guilt or innocence. The 
standards of the court in 1915 were re- 
garded as immaterial, since nearly any 
turn-of-the-century trial could be over- 
thrown in the 1980s if present-day 
standards were applied (thus the police 
department's questionable method of ex- 
tracting Conley's confession, the court- 
room discussions that may have prejudiced 
the jury, and Frank's absence at the read- 
ing of the verdict weren't even consid- 
ered). On top of that, the crowds outside 
the temporary courtroom and the pos- 
sibility that anti-Semitism was a factor in 
the case were also regarded as immaterial. 

In essence, the board had only been 
concerned with Mann's new evidence. In 
its handling of the pardon application, the 
board subjected Frank's advocates to both 
a biting irony and an uncanny restaging of 
the events of seventy years earlier. The 
irony: in 1913, when Frank needed to be 
tried on only the facts, his case was surely 
affected by atmospherics; in 1983, when 
Frank needed the mood prevalent at his 
trial introduced into the proceedings, he 
was judged on just the facts. The element 
of deja vu: black and white gentile south- 
erners had once again banded together to 
find against an outsider, a Jew. 

It was Christmas 1984, and Alonzo Mann, 
in failing health, had moved from his mobile 
home in Virginia to the United States Vet- 
erans Hospital in Mountain View, Ten- 
nessee — a vast complex of red-brick 
institutional buildings tucked into a high 
valley. On a bitterly cold morning he sat on 
an old red vinyl chair in a dormitory com- 
mon room. He wore pants hitched up high 
around his waist, and rubber bands held his 
shirt cuffs to his feeble wrists. On the 
other side of the room, two overly effusive 
Baptist matrons were leading a chorus of 
the maimed — some men were legless, 
others had holes in their necks, most were 




Mann at Mary Phagan's grave 



simply numbed and distracted — through a 
series of Christmas carols. As the sad, soft 
voices came together in the refrain of "0 
Little Town of Bethlehem, " Mann turned 
up his hearing aid and said, "I've given my 
prayers, and I'm ready to die now. I've 
lived a long life. My only regret is that I 
didn't say what I had to say at the right 
time. You know, you think entirely dif- 
ferent when you're fourteen. And out in 
front of the courthouse, there were hun- 
dreds of people. Some of 'em had sticks, 
and one of 'em had an ax. 
But I do wish I had said 
something. I have thought 
about this thousands of times 
since then. I have thought 
of it when I went home and 
sat down. I have thought of 
it when I got up and had 
breakfast. I am thinking 
about it now. " 
moment Mann listened to the 
did tell a few 
but I was just a 



For a 
choir, but then he said, 
other people back then, 
boy, a shy boy. Nobody believed the things 
I said. But I know what I know. I know why 
he had the girl, too. He wanted her money. 
[Frank's defenders have long contended 
this was Conley's motive.] He'd wanted to 
borrow money from me earlier in the day. " 

Mann stared down at his folded, wrin- 
kled hands. "I didn't realize Mr. Frank was 
in deep trouble. Even after the sentence, 
my father said, 'They won't keep him. He'll 
get out. ' But it didn't work that way. 

"I was all tore up. Frank was good to 
me. I did things for him. If he wanted 
something from town, I'd go get it. I had a 
little desk over in the corner in the same 
room. They said in the paper Frank had 
beer bottles in there, but that was a lie. " 

The thought of alcohol brought Conley 
back to Mann's mind. "Jim Conley was a 
smart nigrah. He could talk to you, and he 
had a personality you would like. But he 
drank all the time. And he had women in 
there. He was drinking that morning. " 

In response to the allegation that his age 
made him an unreliable source of informa- 
tion on the Frank case, Mann bristled. "I 
didn't dream this. I can see Jim Conley as 
plain as day with that girl, and my age 
doesn't have a thing to do with it. The only 
thing I've ever dreamed about this case is 
of Mr. Frank hanging from a tree. That 
dream has haunted me. " 

"Silent Night" was now wafting across 
the room. Soon Mann would return to his 
bed in the drab communal quarters. His 
prized possessions were a certificate 
signed by Lester Maddox making him an 
honorary officer in the Georgia State 
Troopers, a photograph of him with "Little 
Johnny — the 'Call for Philip Morris' Ciga- 
rette Boy" at a restaurant he once man- 
aged, and a story about what he saw one 
morning in a pencil factory. Three months 
later, Mann was dead of heart disease and 
pneumonia. His story was all that he left. © 



ESQUIRE/SEPTEMBER 1985 



104